Bird Stein Gans
1868 – 1944
As a young woman of twenty, Bird Stein joined several married women interested in the new field of parent education. This small group formed the Society for the Study of Child Nature in the autumn of 1888, at the suggestion of Professor Felix Adler, founder of the Ethical Culture Society. These women viewed parenthood as a vocation, believing that parenting was a learned talent rather than an instinctual one. They hoped to cull from scientific sources the knowledge necessary for rearing their children, studying child nature from the psychological, ethical, and physical viewpoints. Gans spent the remainder of her years dedicated to the welfare of parents and their children, not only by promoting the expansion of the society, but by involving herself in many other organizations devoted to enhancing family life.
Bird Stein was born on May 29, 1868, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the eldest child of Pauline (Bernhard) and Solomon Stein. Her father was a prosperous woolen merchant who moved his family to New York in 1871. She received her education at Columbia University, the New School for Social Research, and New York University. Her first marriage, to Louis Sternberger, ended in divorce, and she married lawyer Howard S. Gans on July 2 1908. Bird and Howard Gans had two children, Marian and Robert.
Gans was elected president of the Society for the Study of Child Nature in 1897. During the course of her presidency she not only saved the organization from disbanding but also was able to expand its activities as well as its membership. This organization, the first of its kind, was renamed the Federation for Child Study in 1898 to distinguish it from similar organizations that had begun to develop in other cities. In 1924, the name of the organization was changed again, to the Child Study Association of America. The organization’s goal was to help parents improve their relationships with their children. Gans traveled throughout the United States and abroad to further parent education, establishing parent education associations in Japan in 1924, and in England in 1929. She remained president of the Child Study Association until 1933 and honorary president until 1939, maintaining her ties to the organization until her death.
From 1893 to 1913, Gans was affiliated with the National Council of Jewish Women, which she served as vice president. This umbrella organization, created by Hannah Solomon in 1893, strove to unite Jewish women working for worthy causes. In its early decades, women planned and attended study groups primarily on Jewish topics but also on such subjects as law and psychology. These women also committed themselves to the social welfare of Jewish immigrants whom they helped to settle, Judaize, and Americanize. That Gans chose to be an officer in this organization indicates that she identified herself as a Jew and enjoyed being in the company of Jewish women who shared her concern for the welfare of families.
Bird Stein Gans died on December 29, 1944, in Tuckahoe, New York.
AJYB 44:522; Child Study Association. Archival materials. Special Collections, Columbia University Teachers College, NYC; EJ 7:309–310; National Council of Jewish Women. National office and NYC chapter; Obituary. NYTimes, December 31, 1944, 26:1; Rogow, Faith. Gone to Another Meeting: The National Council of Jewish Women, 1883–1993 (1993); Society for the Study of Child Nature. Chap. 1. Summary, 1896–1906, and Reports, 1890–1895; UJE; WWIAJ (1926, 1928, 1938).